From kingpin to farmer in jail: Will Manichan hunt down his debtors on return?

Manichan who was an accused in the Kalluvathukkal hooch tragedy will soon be released from jail. FIle photo: Manorama

Manichan loved to indulge in farming at the open jail in Nettukaltheri. He supervised the agricultural activities in jail. He has been farming for 10 years now. (Chandran alias Manichan, an accused in the infamous Kalluvathukkal hooch tragedy in 2000 which claimed 31 lives, is likely to leave jail today following the Supreme Court order to release him without fine.) An illegal liquor business landed Manichan in jail. And jail moulded Manichan into a farmer. When he comes out of prison, he hopes to eke out a living with the skills he learnt there.

Manichan was transferred to the open jail as part of character correction. Upon being lodged there, he chose farming as his day job. Under Manichan’s supervision, plantains, tapioca, and red spinach grew in abundance on the jail premises. The jail authorities vouch that Manichan is a good farmer.

Even when he was an abkari contractor, Manichan was keen on pursuing farming. He had agro and poultry farms near his house.

Today, Manichan is not an abkari. Though the government decided to free him, he remained in jail as he was unable to pay the fine amount. But with the Supreme Court intervention, the jail doors are finally set to open. When Manichan comes out, a lot of unanswered questions linger in the air before him.

He went from being a ‘Benz king’ to a common prisoner in jail. As he arrives back in his terrain, what is awaiting kingpin Manichan?

Will Manichan make a come back?

When the government decided to free him, the jail authorities asked him what he will do once out of jail? He answered, “I will become a farmer, that’s my wish.” Now the time has come.

Manichan's house in Kollam. File photo: Manorama

Manichan came to know about the Supreme Court verdict to free him from the television set in the open jail. He told the jail authorities that he was happy. On the day of the verdict, he was immersed in what he does best- farming.

The jail authorities said Manichan was hopeful when his siblings were released earlier by the Supreme Court. Though Manichan says he will do farming, his circumstances may not be best suited for the same. The family resides in a small house. He is facing many physical hardships. His close friends say he plans to recapture the time he lost with the help of near and dear ones. With Manichan lodged in jail, many had cornered his assets and money. Since they are not backed by documents, recovery would prove tough. Yet, some moves are underway in the direction. It is widely believed that a huge amount of money which Manichan had lent for interest is in some hands and that a concerted effort is underway to seize it back.

Then a liquor baron, today has only a small house

Once Manichan became an accused in the case, all his pomp and splendour came to an end. The two-storey house he built in his salad days at Koonthallur is shrouded in weeds today. Manichan’s family including his wife resides in a small house nearby. This is his only asset now.

Though the family ran several businesses, nothing succeeded. The sister of Manichan’s wife had a shop before the private bus stand at Attingal. Though fish vending was started here, it also ran into losses. One of Manichan's brothers started a wayside shop near Attingal ITI, he was forced to close it down later. Though his son started a catering business, that too was stopped later. Another brother started a mini supermarket at Chirayankeezhu, but closed it down later. Another brother does contract works in the construction sector. The family does odd jobs for a living now.

Started selling rice porridge, grew selling toddy, perished selling spirit

Manichan started his business life by selling rice porridge in front of the Chirayankeezhu Taluk Hospital. He ran this for several years. Later, he bought a toddy shop at an auction in Sarkara. When he sold strong spirit in the guise of toddy, there was rapid growth for him. The number of shops he took on auction increased. Not only local leaders, but top leaders and police-excise officials became his friend. Some of his brothers came to help him out in the business.

Manichan soon spread his empire to the entire district. He even sponsored major temple festivals in the area. He acquired many properties. He owned three Benz cars at that time, the locals recall. Every day, he visited the nearby temple in his Benz car. There was a huge crowd at the temple on the first of every Malayalam Month to see Manichan arrive for worship. He used to give money (kaineettam) to everyone present there. Soon, Manichan controlled the spirit sales in the State Capital. He had attained stardom. Top officials bent backward to appease him.

Manichan's liquor empire started falling apart after those who consumed spurious liquor from Kalluvathukkal native Hairunnissa, the prime accused in the case, died en masse. File photo: Manorama

Manichan ‘falls’; friends desert him

The real-life chronicle of Manichan, the kingpin of the Kalluvathukkal hooch tragedy, is more dramatic than the film stories. It’s also a tale of an abkari contractor who started out poor and became rich before losing everything in an unexpected turn of events. His downfall started when he was reigning as the controlling force of the liquor industry in Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam. The hooch tragedy, which occurred in the Kalluvathukkal village of Kollam on October 20, 2000, resulted in the death of 31 people. Manichan has been serving the jail term in this case for the last two decades.

His liquor empire started falling apart after those who consumed spurious liquor from Kalluvathukkal native Hyrunnissa, the prime accused in the case, died en masse. The latter had bought the spirit to prepare the hooch from Manichan. As he became an accused in the case, the political influence he enjoyed till then began to wane away. Some of his friends went underground with his money. He lost his properties. His family even struggled to fight the case. Manichan, who gave bundles of notes to those who came to his house seeking help, had a harrowing time finding the means to meet his rising legal expenses. Manichan, who was accompanied by aides on both his sides, was deserted by them in his hard times. It was his wife and son from pillar to post for his court cases. Though they approached his friends and acquaintances, none were ready to help them. In fact, it is said that some of them even attempted to delay his release from jail.


No ransom money; Manichan’s release gets delayed

Though the state government decided to release Manichan and other accused in the case languishing in jail for long periods, his getting out of prison got delayed following his inability to pay the ransom money. Manichan was required to remit Rs 30.45 lakh fine to the government. The Sessions Court had ordered that this amount should be provided to the kin of the hooch tragedy victims. However, this amount was too much an ask for his family. Though some groups tried to collect funds for his release, it was to no avail. Finally, his wife approached the Supreme Court, citing their inability to pay.

Where are his ‘aides’?

The report of certain politicians, Excise, and police officials receiving kickbacks from Manichan in the aftermath of the hooch tragedy “to act in his favour” had created a political uproar then. A total of 20 persons, including CPM and CPI leaders, whose names were mentioned in Manichan’s diary were booked. The V.P. Mohankumar commission, enquiring into the hooch tragedy, found that certain political leaders had misused their official position to facilitate the illicit liquor sale. Except for three, all the other accused admitted before the commission that they had received payment from Manichan. The same was received as party fund, they said. However, the commission observed that the argument of the accused leaders that the money was intended to be used for election purposes had no basis. Though the commission recommended action against the leaders, nothing happened thereafter. Though the Cabinet ordered a vigilance probe against the political leaders and officials mentioned in the report, the investigation got stalled halfway.

Even the commission set up by the CPM to probe the kickback allegations found the accused party leaders to have received crores of rupees from Manichan. Pirappankode Murali was the convenor of the committee which conducted the inquiry on the direction of the party PB. The action got confined to the ouster of district secretary M. Satyaneshan. The accused in the hooch tragedy, happened at the time when the LDF was in power, is now being freed on the recommendation of the LDF government itself.


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